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Diary of a Fantasy Madman
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Diary of a Fantasy Madman
Written by Zach Steinhorn   
Sunday, 14 September 2014 00:00

I started playing fantasy baseball in 2001, the tail end of what we now refer to as “The Steroid Era.” It was a 12-team mixed league with only nine starting hitter slots, and although I finished in 9th place that year, I did manage to lead the league in home runs with 284, which comes out to 31.5 homers per slot. At the time, it didn’t seem like an exceptionally high number, but what did I know? I was a rookie. On the pitching side, I wasn’t quite as fortunate, as my 4.41 ERA and 1.36 WHIP ranked 10th and 9th respectively. Only five of the 12 teams finished with an ERA below 4.00. Only five of the 12 teams finished with a WHIP below 1.30. That didn’t seem out of the ordinary, but what did I know about ordinary? I was a rookie.

13 years later, I’m not a rookie anymore, and in hindsight, it’s easy to take the stats from that time period and throw them out the window. The game is different now. It’s more of a pitcher’s game these days. Last season, only two players, Chris Davis and Miguel Cabrera, reached the 40-home run plateau and only five players hit at least 35 homers. Back in my rookie fantasy season of 2001, there were 12 guys with at least 40 longballs. The 35-plus home run club had 24 members. This year, the #24 ranked player in the category has 23 homers with a little more than two weeks to go. But let’s take a shorter term view while shifting our attention back to the fantasy game. Let’s focus on 2012 through 2014, the three years that I have been competing in Mixed Auction Tout Wars.

First, take a look at this table, which compares the median finish (the 8th place total in this 15-team league) in each of the 10 categories over the three seasons. Note that since 2014 is not complete, I’m using the Baseball HQ projected end of season stats as of September 13. Also, since we used AVG rather than OBP in 2012, I’ve left that box empty.


2014
2013
2012






OBP 0.3283
0.3332
           N/A
HR 214
230
252
RBI 853
908
939
R 921
945
983
SB 133
126
159






W 88
89
91
SV 62
76
67
ERA 3.571
3.714
3.829
WHIP 1.2339
1.2463
1.273
K 1334
1284
1285

Pretty convincing stuff, right? Home Runs, RBI and Runs have steadily decreased while the median OBP has also taken a tumble. On the pitching side, both the median ERA and WHIP continue to fall and strikeouts are on the rise.

What if instead of the median number, we used the 3rd place number? A popular strategy when preparing for drafts, particularly auctions, is to construct a roster that, based on projections, can finish in at least 3rd place in all of the categories. Here’s the same table with the 3rd place stats.


2014
2013
2012






OBP 0.3364
0.3388
           N/A
HR 250
250
274
RBI 973
957
1021
R 990
1001
1044
SB 157
167
182






W 100
94
101
SV 109
93
81
ERA 3.273
3.469
3.614
WHIP 1.1815
1.1605
1.2022
K 1387
1367
1340

This one doesn’t correlate quite as well as the first table, particularly when comparing the 2013 and 2014 totals in RBI and WHIP, but of the three seasons, 2012 remains by far the most hitter-friendly.

Whatever the reason, whether it’s tougher PED penalties or improved pitching, particularly in the area of specialty relievers, the bottom line is that home runs are down and offense in general is down. If you plan on placing near the top in the pitching categories next season, lowering your target ERA and WHIP and raising your target strikeout total would be a good idea. Go ahead, spend an extra few dollars to secure that ace pitcher on draft day.

I know I will.

Last Updated on Sunday, 14 September 2014 01:03
 
Study Hall PDF Print E-mail
Diary of a Fantasy Madman
Written by Zach Steinhorn   
Sunday, 31 August 2014 00:00
For me at least, fantasy baseball draft prep is far more involved and time consuming than preparing for a fantasy football draft. Maybe it’s because I prefer the fantasy baseball game, but I think a bigger reason is that there’s simply more uninterrupted time to prepare. Even if you take October, November and December off, you have roughly two and a half months to indulge in player profiles, projections and mock drafts. And that’s not to mention that those of us in the industry really can’t afford to take October, November and December off, as most of us participate in a number of mocks for various sites and publications.

Football, on the other hand, is a crash course. Sure, there are far fewer players in the standard draft pool, but juggling gridiron prep with managing my baseball squads can become quite challenging. Anyway, the cramming is winding down, and by this Tuesday night, all of my rosters will be complete.

On that note, here’s a look at the players I’ve drafted so far in each of my leagues at the key positions.

QB: Matt Ryan, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees

Part of my strategy heading into drafts this season was to pass on the elite tier of quarterbacks and instead target the much more affordable 8-12 group, which included guys like Ryan, Romo and Tom Brady. And if they turned out to be too expensive, would I mind settling for Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers or Jay Cutler? Not at all. In my auction leagues, the price drop after the top tier was tremendous. Owners generally do not like to spend more than about $6 for their backup QB, so even in a 14-teamer, a capable starting QB can be had for single-digit dollars. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the only reason why I’m a Brees owner is that he was on a keeper league roster I inherited a few years ago.

RB1: LeSean McCoy, LeSean McCoy, Adrian Peterson, Adrian Peterson

The general consensus among fantasy football pundits this season is that the trend towards more running back by committees has lessened the need to spend big on this position. But, doesn’t that make the truly elite guys who are not part of a committee even more valuable? I slightly prefer McCoy over Peterson, as the 2014 Eagles offense should be just as good, if not better, than last year’s version that trailed only the Broncos in yards per game. However, I do like to change things up a bit in my auctions. Owning the same player on more than two teams isn’t all that fun.

RB2: Shane Vereen, Shane Vereen, Matt Forte, Marshawn Lynch

All of my leagues award points for receptions, hence my infatuation with Vereen, who as long as he stays healthy, makes for a fine RB2 in PPR leagues. And the strange thing is that he’s being undervalued even in those formats. Maybe owners are concerned about the injury risk. I can’t think of any other explanation. As for Forte, I paired him with Peterson as part of a “stars and scrubs” auction plan. I’m not too high on Lynch, as the workload and TD dependency concerns me, but he was clearly the best player available when it was my turn to pick in my only snake draft.

WR1: Antonio Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, Vincent Jackson, Alshon Jeffery

The stars and scrubs RB strategy by which I was able to land both Peterson and Forte forced me to settle for Jackson as my WR1. He certainly has WR1 talent, but the consistency just hasn’t been there. I have a feeling that he will be the player who drives me nuts the most. Fitzgerald is another enigma. At 31, he isn’t exactly over the hill, but the QB situation in Arizona with Carson Palmer at the helm is far from comforting. Even Jeffery is a bit risky as a WR1 due to the thin track record.

WR2: DeSean Jackson, Keenan Allen, Julian Edelman, Julian Edelman

Jackson worries me the most of this group, especially for PPR purposes, as Pierre Garcon will continue to serve as Robert Griffin’s top target and Jackson’s career-high 82 catches last year was largely a byproduct of Jeremy Maclin missing the entire season. But as a WR2 in a 14-teamer, DeSean could be decent enough. Edelman is a PPR specialist who will be just fine as a WR2, despite the return of Rob Gronkowski, who is no sure bet to make it through the entire season anyway. Allen should build on his breakout 2013 season, and I’m pumped to own him in a keeper league for the reasonable price of 16 dollars.

TE: Dennis Pitta, Dennis Pitta, Greg Olsen, Dennis Pitta

As you can tell, I like Dennis Pitta a lot this year, and I expect him to be a favorite target of Joe Flacco, particularly in the end zone. Yeah, he’s being drafted as a top-10 TE, but I can easily see him produce like a top-5 guy.

Alright, enough procrastinating. I need to finish preparing for my Tuesday night draft.

Last Updated on Saturday, 30 August 2014 23:28
 
Surprise, Surprise PDF Print E-mail
Diary of a Fantasy Madman
Written by Zach Steinhorn   
Sunday, 24 August 2014 00:00
When it comes to fantasy baseball, April is a funny month. Sure, there’s the excitement of a brand new season where the feat of winning a league title is a realistic goal for every owner. But, for those of us who often assume the role of advice givers, April can be pretty annoying, as we need to constantly remind people that the sample size is small. This year, for example, Edwin Encarnacion was a popular early-season topic of discussion thanks to his grand total of two home runs in April. As it turned out, those who remained patient with the Blue Jays first baseman reaped the rewards of a 16-homer month of May. On the other hand, some were ready to hand over breakout player of the year honors to Chris Colabello, but after tallying three home runs and 27 RBI in April, he has since collected a combined three homers and 12 RBI. Anyway, as the season goes on, the peaks and valleys become less noticeable, hidden within the year to date stat line. I make a conscious effort to pay attention to the split stats of my players in an effort to determine whether I should hold, drop or shop. But there are always some statistics that surprise me. Here’s a sampling from my Mixed Auction Tout Wars team.

Chris Carter is batting .300 with nine homers and 23 RBI through 20 games in August

I knew that Carter is in the midst of a hot streak, but I didn’t realize he was this hot. At one point earlier in the year, I was so frustrated with my $10 Tout Wars investment that I benched him for a couple weeks. But after missing out on a few homers, I ultimately decided to plug him back into my lineup for the duration, and it’s worked out quite well. With Carter, you simply have to accept the bad with the good. He’s basically a younger version of Adam Dunn with just as much power potential but perhaps a lower OBP ceiling. Carter says he’s made some adjustments to his swing, so maybe the new approach will enable him to avoid a prolonged cold spell down the stretch.

Torii Hunter is hitting .211 with no homers and only three RBI in August

Hunter made an immediate impact on my squad after I acquired him via trade during the All-Star break, slugging two homers and driving in seven across his first five contests. Things have gone south in a hurry, however, and now the skeptics can talk all they want about how the 39-year-old is nearing the end of the road. But the fact remains that on the whole, Hunter is putting together yet another productive season. He’s always been a streaky hitter, even in his prime. I’m not concerned.

Addison Reed has converted all eight of his save chances since the All-Star break while registering a 2.13 ERA and 0.95 WHIP

Outside of the ten home runs allowed in 50 1/3 innings, Reed’s stat line looks fine, but owning the Diamondbacks stopper this year has been anything but comforting. Even when he does get the job done, he always seems to make things interesting, and I can’t even begin to count the number of times Manager Kirk Gibson has assured the media that Reed is still his closer. At this point, I don’t think Gibson will need to do any more assuring. Reed hasn’t blown a save chance since early July, and after holding onto Brad Ziegler for more than two months as Reed insurance, I finally dropped him earlier this week.

Wade Miley holds a 4.60 ERA and 1.58 WHIP through seven starts in the second half

Miley is a guy who I was targeting on draft day as an underrated back end of the rotation starter. The good news for him this year is that he’s striking out batters at a career-high rate. The bad news is that his ERA and WHIP are mediocre at best. To be fair, the second half ERA is skewed by a disastrous 4 2/3 IP, 10 ER outing against the Royals earlier this month, but it would also be unfair to ignore that meltdown. Despite the overall inconsistency though, Miley has been consistently strong on the road, posting a 2.65 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in his 14 starts away from Chase Field. So at the very least, he’s proving to be a viable matchups play, and someone who still deserves a spot on most mixed league rosters.

Last Updated on Sunday, 24 August 2014 05:12
 
Mid-August Checkup PDF Print E-mail
Diary of a Fantasy Madman
Written by Zach Steinhorn   
Sunday, 17 August 2014 00:00

It was the middle of June and I was sitting in my doctor’s office, patiently trying to explain to him the intricacies of fantasy baseball. A native of Texas, he’s a Ranger fan, and when the subject of Tout Wars came up, and I mentioned that Nelson Cruz was hands down my best value pick this year, my Ranger fan doctor had some advice. “Be careful. Cruz is very streaky”, he warned. And I knew this, of course. But at the same time, it just seemed like this year was going to be a special year for the PED tainted slugger. Maybe this year, the cold spell wouldn’t be that cold and wouldn’t last too long. Well, that turned out to be wishful thinking. After hitting .287 with 28 homers, 74 RBI and a .923 OPS in 356 pre All-Star break at-bats, Cruz has managed a miserable .170 average to go along with three homers, nine RBI and a .571 OPS over his first 94 at-bats since the Midsummer Classic. Although the window of opportunity to sell high on Cruz is firmly shut, I’m not regretting my decision to hold onto him. The Orioles’ bargain basement off-season acquisition has already given me way more production than I could have possibly expected, and as we all know, he’s very streaky, which can be a good thing sometimes.

Cruz ranked 2nd in the Majors in pre All-Star break home runs, behind only Jose Abreu, and 2nd in RBI, trailing only Miguel Cabrera, so let’s now check in on the current state of some other top roto performers from the first half.

Jose Abreu – There was a great deal of mystery surrounding Abreu heading into his rookie season in the big leagues, as we just didn’t know how accurately his elite stats from Cuba would translate to the Majors. The new White Sox first baseman was taken outside of the top-10 at his position in the vast majority of mixed league drafts, and it’s fairly safe to assume that the vast majority of Abreu owners are doing quite well in their fantasy leagues. Abreu led the Majors in first half homers, this despite missing two weeks due to injury. His home run rate has plummeted since the break (only two homers), but owners who are legitimately worried about this need to relax. Let’s face it, all of you guys are spoiled.

Troy Tulowitzki – What a surprise, another injury-ravaged season for Tulo. Back in the day, I used to target him in all of my drafts. That was back in the day. Look, it’s unfair to say that the headache isn’t worth it, because even in a half-season, Tulowitzki will outproduce almost every other shortstop. In fact, his 71 runs scored in the first half this season led all players in baseball. The problem is that he doesn’t come at much of a discount on draft day. In Mixed Auction Tout Wars this year, he went for $30. I usually restrict myself to no more than one $30 player, and if I’m going to spend $30 on a single player, I’d prefer it if his total games played number is closer to 162 than 81.

Brian Dozier – Even though he posted solid power and speed numbers in his first full big league season last year, I wasn’t buying into Dozier at all this spring, scared off by his low batting average and the fact that at 26, he wasn’t exactly a promising young prospect. Maybe I should have bought into him. The Twins second baseman is piecing together an even better stat line this year, already only one stolen base shy of a 20/20 campaign. Dozier is once again a batting average liability, but in addition to the homers and steals, he’s currently tied with Anthony Rendon for the major league lead in runs, this after finishing 2nd in the category in the first half, behind none other than Troy Tulowitzki.

Dee Gordon – If you had to pick one player who you think resides on the roster of the largest percentage of first place fantasy teams, who would it be? My choice is Gordon, who went undrafted in most mixed leagues yet is on pace to finish the season with a .293 batting average, 90 runs scored and 73 steals. After swiping a major league high 43 bags in the first half, he’s already racked up 13 steals in 26 second half contests. Stolen base specialists of Gordon’s caliber carry a hefty price tag in fantasy, but Gordon’s price tag in Mixed Auction Tout Wars this year was zero. That’s right, Ray Guilfoyle selected Dee in the reserve rounds, and unsurprisingly, Ray is leading the league in thefts by a wide margin.

Robinson Cano – Yeah, Cano’s home run total is disappointing, but I sort of expected this, moving from longball-friendly Yankee Stadium to cavernous Safeco Field. However, I did not expect a mere 11 homers through 116 games. But aside from the home run category, it’s been another typical Cano year. His 118 first half hits ranked 2nd behind Jose Altuve’s 130, and his four homers since the All-Star break suggests that perhaps a power surge is in store.

Power can be tricky. It can come and go and then come again.

At least that’s what I’m hoping for with Nelson Cruz.

Last Updated on Sunday, 17 August 2014 00:34
 
Time To Split PDF Print E-mail
Diary of a Fantasy Madman
Written by Zach Steinhorn   
Sunday, 10 August 2014 00:00
What an improbable second half of the season it’s been so far. Sure, the sample size is still small, but a glance at the post All-Star break leaders in the traditional five fantasy hitting categories (with hits replacing batting average) will surprise you. Or at least some of it will surprise you. Let’s take a look.

RUNS: Josh Harrison (18)

Heading into the season, Harrison was nowhere near the fantasy radar. Four months later, the 27-year-old, fresh off his first All-Star Game appearance, is one of the hottest hitters in baseball, batting .367 with five homers and six steals since the break to go along with the major league leading 18 runs. Yeah, skeptics can point to the thin track record, but by now, the results speak for themselves. Even if Harrison begins to struggle at the plate, his ability to fill multiple positions affords him a long leash when it comes to playing time.

HITS: Denard Span (38)

Of all my purchases in this year’s Mixed Tout Wars auction, a strong case could be made that a $1 Span, and not a $10 Nelson Cruz, has netted me the biggest profit. The Nationals centerfielder has been a reliable contributor in runs and steals all season, but since the beginning of July, he’s raised his game to a whole new level, improving his batting average by nearly 40 points. Oh, and his second half average is .452. If Span keeps up his current pace, he will finish the season with 101 runs, 33 swipes and a .304 average. Pretty good for a guy who opened 2014 on the waiver wire in the majority of mixed leagues.

HOME RUNS: J.P. Arencibia/Giancarlo Stanton (7)

Stanton leading a home run list isn’t a very exciting topic of conversation, so we won’t waste time with that. Instead, we’ll focus on Arencibia, who was so awful over the season’s first seven-plus weeks that he spent the rest of the first half in the Minors. Arencibia will never hit for a high average, but he’s always had power, and he’s certainly putting that power on full display since the break. J.P. is spending his time at first base these days, but the fact that he remains catcher-eligible makes him worthy of consideration in deeper two-catcher mixed leagues if you’re in need of some pop. But be warned that he’s liable to go ice cold at any moment, so be prepared to cut bait when that happens. And it will happen. It’s just a matter of time.

RBI: J.P. Arencibia (22)

Arencibia will go ice cold at any moment, so be prepared to cut bait when that happens. I seem to remember saying something like this before.

STOLEN BASES: Denard Span/Dee Gordon (8)

Talk about under the radar. Span being tied with the major league stolen base leader in steals since the All-Star break is something that I was totally unaware of, this despite owning Denard in multiple leagues. With 23 thefts through 105 games, he’s only four steals shy of setting a new single-season high. The chances of Span continuing to swipe bags at this rate are only marginally better than the chances of him maintaining his .515 post All-Star break OBP.

Improbable? Yes. But impossible? No.

Last Updated on Sunday, 10 August 2014 01:56
 
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